Six months into its new program to prosecute people who write bad checks, the district attorney’s office has returned to county merchants more than $110,000 in restitution payments.
“We’ve always had some (bad) checks, but before it was hard to get the customer to pay,” said Nancy Matsuoka, whose Laguna Hills Nursery received $175 in restitution in November.
“Before, we had to call the customers ourselves,” said Matsuoka, 37. “Now, all we have to do is turn (the checks) over to authorities.”
Since September, 1990, when the program was launched, district attorney’s investigators have processed nearly 17,000 bad checks and “the number is going up every month,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. Bruce Patterson, who heads the program.
According to Patterson, his office recovered $35,633 for merchants this month compared to $3,327 in October.
“We were very optimistic and enthusiastic when we kicked (the program) off in the fall,” Dist. Atty. Michael R. Capizzi said Friday. “It’s meeting all of our projections and expectations.”
Under the program, which has been started in 11 other California counties, authorities give offenders a chance to avoid possible criminal charges by agreeing to pay the merchant the amount owed, paying a $25 fee to the county and attending an eight-hour counseling class for an additional $50.
The county gets a percentage of the $25 administrative fee. The remainder and the $50 instruction fee goes to American Corrective Counseling Services of Santa Ana, which runs the counseling sessions.
The program is “one of those rare opportunities in the justice system where everybody wins,” said Don Mealing, who runs the counseling service.
“It helps the merchants because they get 100% of their restitution at no cost. It lightens the workloads of the D.A.'s office and law enforcement agencies. And, it even helps the (bad) check writers in that the program gives them guidelines on how to better manage their (checking) accounts and not do the same thing again.”
Offenders who have written bad checks totaling more than $750 or one check for $500 or more are not accepted in the program and must face criminal sanctions, according to the district attorney’s office.
Since October, about 1,285 bad-check offenders have attended the program, Mealing said.
According to Huntington Beach Police Sgt. Bill Peterson, who heads the Economic Crimes Unit, the workload of his detail has decreased about 30% since the the program began.
Dan Shaw, the owner of Stone Creek Market in Irvine, said he is impressed with the program’s latitude in handling checks no matter what the amount.
“We have returned checks in the amounts as low as $3,” Shaw said.